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Bringing the frontline to the forefront of Industry 4.0

Russ Fadel  CEO Augmentir
By Russ Fadel CEO, Augmentir

FIELD INTELLIGENCE: Smart Processes, Solutions & Strategies

I met a man recently. He had worked at a small manufacturing company for 20 plus years and was the sole technician responsible for the assembly of his company’s most complex product. After years of dedication to the company, he was set to retire.

Throughout his career, this man had acquired decades of invaluable on-the-job knowledge. He knew that his exit would leave a hole in production and bided his time to break the news. How could any new hire honestly fill his role, and how could he let down the company that had become his second home?

Welcome to Industry 4.0’s blind spot: the frontline worker. An extraordinary number of aging workers will retire in the next 10 years, and they will walk out the door with vast amounts of experience and skills. This man held a wealth of knowledge with no easy way to share it with his successors.

I’d like to say this story is a one-off, but we all know it’s not.

Unfortunately, for most manufacturers, the knowledge possessed by this senior workforce has yet to be captured in any digital or electronic format. At the same time, a younger, more tech-savvy generation of unskilled workers is coming into the market. They may have the attitude and aptitude, but lack the skills required to effectively participate in day-to-day operations. More and more manufacturing companies are facing these challenges, with no clear solution on how to capture tribal knowledge and effectively train their workforce. In industry today, workers are disconnected and underserved. When you think about it, our machines have had it better.

So, what can we do to address the growing loss of knowledge our industry realizes as our workforce continues to age as well as this widening skills gap between the new and past workforces?

This was the focus that our team at Augmentir had when we founded the company in 2017: Can we use technology to help augment human workers in manufacturing companies of all sizes, intelligently close this skills gap and help companies capture tribal knowledge before it walks out the door? From the earliest days of our company, our belief was that artificial intelligence (AI) holds the key to addressing these challenges and bringing the frontline workforce to the forefront of Industry 4.0.

The man I met was a technician at a company called Strongarm, a leading manufacturer of operator interface systems and industrial displays headquartered in Horsham, Penn.

With about 125 full-time employees, the company prioritizes innovation in its products, process and people.

Fortunately, Strongarm had recently deployed Augmentir’s AI-powered connected worker software in an effort to not only digitize its operation but also put the increased focus back on its workforce—to gain better insight into technician activities and performance and be able to offer targeted training to help improve productivity and quality across its operation.

Strongarm transitioned from paper-based assembly instructions to digital within days of its implementation of Augmentir, and, given the timing, the company was able to record its top technician’s ex-pert assembly procedures before his exit.

Within two weeks of the implementation, Strongarm saw a 17 percent reduction in the average build time of its most complex stations and was able to onboard a novice technician and trust Augmentir’s AI to guide him during the learning curve to get products out the door at 100 percent quality so that they didn’t miss shipments.

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